Room to Read

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Room to Read
Non-profit organization
Industry Education
Founded 2000
Headquarters San Francisco, California, United States
Key people
  • John Wood (Founder and Executive Chairman)
  • Erin Ganju (Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer)
  • Dinesh Shrestha (Co-Founder and Director of Field Operations)

Room to Read is a non-profit organization for improving literacy and gender equality in education in the developing world. Headquartered in San Francisco, California, and founded on the belief that "World Change Starts With Educated Children," the organization focuses on working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments. Room to Read develops literacy skills and the habit of reading among primary school children, and supports girls in completing secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond.[1]

Room to Read is serving communities in ten countries in Asia and Africa: South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.[2]


John Wood, founder and board co-chair, launched Room to Read in 1999 after a trek through Nepal where he visited several local schools. He was amazed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the students and teachers, but saddened by the shocking lack of resources. Driven to help, John quit his senior executive position with Microsoft and built a global team to work with rural villages to build sustainable solutions to their education challenges.[1]

Beginning in Nepal, John and his Nepali Co-Founder, Dinesh Shrestha, started by working with rural communities to build schools (School Room) and establish libraries (Reading Room). John and Dinesh quickly recognized the need to expand the scope of work beyond libraries, and wanted to address the fact that many girls in the developing world are overlooked in the educational system due to cultural bias. To that end, in 2000, Room to Read began the Girls' Education program, which targets young girls and provides a long-term commitment to their education.

In 2001, co-founder and CEO Erin Keown Ganju spearheaded Room to Read’s expansion into Vietnam.[3] Since then, Room to Read's operations have expanded to include Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Zambia. In 2010, Room to Read celebrated its "Year of Tens," marking its ten-year anniversary with the opening of its 10,000th library in Nepal, along with the construction of its 1,000th school and support of its 10,000th girl through the Girls' Education Program.[4]

Core operating principles[edit]

  • Global Footprint and Long-Term Engagement: Room to Read employs flexible program models that can be adapted locally. It focuses on developing countries with relatively stable governance where education can be prioritized, seeking strategic partnerships with governments and like-minded organizations.
  • Community Engagement and Local Partnerships: The organization partners with communities to achieve its goals, challenging the local population to contribute to each project either financially, or through the donation of labor.
  • Scale and Sustainability: Room to Read seeks to successfully demonstrate effective and cost-efficient program models so that governments and other non-profits can adopt its methodology and practices, thereby catalyzing long-term, systemic change.
  • Diversified and Engaged Funding Base: Room to Read's donor base is diverse in type and location, raising at least 30% of its funding base through its global chapter network. It is committed to maintaining a low overhead ratio, with at least 80% of funding going directly to programs.[5]


Room to Read partners with villages to build schools.[6] It establishes libraries and fills them with donated English- and local-language books purchased in-country or self-published, creating a child-friendly environment that includes posters, games and furniture.[7] Sourcing content from local writers and illustrators, Room to Read publishes children's books in over 25 languages.[8] In 2009, Room to Read introduced Literacy Pilot Programs in Sri Lanka and Nepal to improve the habit of reading among students who utilize the organization's resources.[9][10]

The Girls' Education Program is aimed at providing girls with the support they need to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in the classroom and beyond.[11] In addition to scholarships, Room to Read employs social mobilizers in each community to act as role models for the girls, as well as hosting life skills workshops.[12]

Chapter network[edit]

Room to Read has all-volunteer fundraising chapters in:[13] United States: Aspen Valley, CO; Atlanta, GA; Austin, TX; Boston, MA; Central NJ; Charlotte, NC; Chicago, IL; Cincinnati, OH; Columbus, OH; Dallas, TX; Denver / Boulder, CO; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Greenwich, CT; Houston, TX; Los Angeles, CA; Manchester, NH; Minneapolis / St. Paul, MN; Nashville, TN; New York, NY; Portland, OR; Salt Lake City/Wasatch, UT; San Diego, CA; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; St. Louis, MO; Washington, DC; and Westchester, NY.

Canada: Calgary, AB; Edmonton, AB; Toronto, ON; Montreal, QC; and Vancouver, BC.

Asia: Hong Kong, China; Seoul, South Korea; Tokyo, Japan; Mumbai, India; Singapore.

Middle East: United Arab Emirates

Australasia: Adelaide, Auckland, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney.

Europe: Edinburgh, Scotland; London, England; Brussels, Belgium; Paris, France; Munich, Germany; Rhein-Main, Germany; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Zurich, Switzerland.


Since its inception in 2000, Room to Read has impacted the lives of over 6 million children in the developing world by:[14]

  • Constructing 1,450 schools;
  • Establishing 12,522 libraries;
  • Publishing 591 new local language children's titles;
  • Distributing over 10,4 million children's books;
  • Funding 13,662 long-term girls' scholarships.

Awards and recognition[edit]


  1. ^ a b "About Us". Official Website. Room to Read. 
  2. ^ "Our Programs". Official Website. Room to Read. 
  3. ^ Wood, John (2006). Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. New York: Harper Collins. pp. 119–125. ISBN 9780061121074. 
  4. ^ Scher, Eddie (12 November 2010). "Financial Times Features Room To Read and ‘Year of Tens’". Skoll Foundation. Archived from the original on 19 November 2010. 
  5. ^ "Room to Read". Charity Navigator. 
  6. ^ "School Room". Official Website. Room to Read. Archived from the original on 18 August 2009. 
  7. ^ "Reading Room". Official Website. Room to Read. Archived from the original on 4 September 2009. 
  8. ^ "Local Language Publishing". Official Website. Room to Read. Archived from the original on 18 August 2009. 
  9. ^ Pilot Programs
  10. ^ Annual Report 2009, Room to Read. (p.16)
  11. ^ "Girls' Education". Official Website. Room to Read. 
  12. ^ Dalton, Aaron (1 July 2008). "What Works: Books to Grow On, How Room to Read Created More Than 5,000 Libraries in Less Than Eight Years". Stanford Social Innovation Review. 
  13. ^ "Chapter Network". Official Website. Room to Read. 
  14. ^ Results as of October 2011. Room to Read posts its result numbers quarterly.
  15. ^ "Library of Congress Literacy Award Winners Announced". News from the Library of Congress. 30 August 2014. 
  16. ^ "UNESCO International Literacy Prizewinners 2011". UNESCO. 
  17. ^ "Financials". Room to Read. Retrieved 3 March 2013. 
  18. ^ "Awards & Recognition". Official Website. Room to Read. Archived from the original on 16 March 2009. 
  19. ^ "Ten Innovative NGOs in Education". International Relations Online (American University School of International Service). 12 September 2014. 

External links[edit]